Candidates discuss religion, COVID, growth at GOP Forum

The subject of growth in Stanly County and other issues were the topics of conversation between two District 5 Republican county commissioner candidates at Monday’s GOP Candidate Forum at the Stanly County Agri-Civic Center.

Incumbent candidate Peter Asciutto and opponent Billy Mills sat at the table on stage. Both candidates work in educational fields, with Asciutto teaching for Anson County Schools. Mills teaches engineering part-time for Gray Stone Day School after a full-time teaching career in Rowan County.

Billy Mills

Mills said children are the reason why he is running for office.

“If we don’t stand up for them, who’s going to?” Mills said.

Mills said he has been asked to “tone down his Christianity,” but he said he will not.

If asked to teach creation or evolution, he continued, he would teach creation.

“I’m teaching that this world is only 6,000 years old. When you have a kid who thinks the world is 200 million years old, they’re just a number. But if the Earth is 6,000 years old, and say everyone lives to be 1,000, because (people) used to live longer, that means there’s only been 60 generations since the beginning of time,” Mills said.

He further said being just one out of 200 million people is the reason kids “get on Tik Tok and try to get attention.”

Asciutto admitted he was not from Stanly County but that he loved the county.

Peter Asciutto

“This is my home,” Asciutto said, noting some achievements he had made on the board including the ALCOA settlement and the livestock arena set to open this April or May. He noted he donated $2,500 for a memorial sign for his sister and had his brother play a benefit concert at the Agri-Civic Center to raise money for the arena.

Asciutto also mentioned a dictionary drive for youth and donations totaling more than $100,000 to local charities, including Stanly Community Christian Ministry, the American Red Cross, the YMCA and others.

When asked about urban sprawl, Asciutto said the commissioners have been fine tuning zoning laws to match the county land use plan. He said he would continue to visit municipalities to help them manage growth, and that the county “should have slow and steady growth as our infrastructure catches up.”

Mills said industry, rather than subdivisions, “can bring in a lot more money” for the county. He said out of town developers “don’t care about Stanly County,” including his own neighborhood.

When asked about jail overcrowding and what to do with older school facilities, Mills said Stanly’s schools, children and teachers would be his “top priority.” He said he has worked as a referee or umpire for middle school games “because I love the schools, I love being around the kids and I want to see them treated fairly.”

Asciutto said commissioners have examined the jail situation. He said there was an issue “over how the courts have been run and moving people through slowly.” He said the board has looked for new locations for a jail but have decided on remodeling the current building.

Regarding the schools, Asciutto said it felt like the county has “22 different school districts” and added he lost an election in 2016 because of “promoting the schools going forward by consolidating schools and having a better plan.” He said commissioners have offered to pay for half of the cost of an independent study with Stanly County Schools paying the other part, and he would rather take a little longer to do a plan right “than to just spend your money wrong.”

Regarding local healthcare and access to it, Asciutto said the local Consolidated Services Board (CSB) has worked hard to reduce drug overdoses by working with local agencies. He said he trusted the health department and hospital, and noted his work as an Atrium Health COVID Vaccine Ambassador.

“I make no apologies for it. If someone wants to get the vaccine, that is up to them. If somebody doesn’t want to wear a mask, OK, that’s up to you,” Asciutto said.

He said he felt people should still try to maintain social distancing.

“The further away you stay from somebody, the less likely you are to catch what they’ve got,” he said.

Mills, showing a mask in his hand, said viruses were too small to be caught by a mask, adding it was “like trying to catch a mosquito in a chain-link fence.”

He said faith-based treatment programs “could not tap into the money awarded to the state” and later added “I believe faith-based rehab and recovery is just as important” as medicine-based treatment.

Mills said he supports Donald Trump and added tax money should not go to abortion or illegal immigrants.

”I pray to God this country comes back,” he said. “I will do everything I can with these young people. You’re about to lose this generation.”

Asciutto said he was “trying to figure out how creationism fits into engineering,” referring to Mills. He said programs like Gateway to Hope, a local faith-based rehab program, has been getting money for two years. He also said immigrants are people and, once they ask for asylum, are “here legally at that point.”

More on the county commission race can be found here.